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On faith: The stories we tell

Rev. Lawrence Lee, pastor

United Church of Two Harbors

When I was a senior in high school I skipped school one day. A bunch of us decided we were going to skip school and head up to Cedar Point, a big amusement park on Lake Erie, and spend the day. The next day, during first period, our vice principal, Mr. Fanning, confronted me in the library and asked me where I was the day before. Figuring the jig was up, I answered truthfully.

“All right, you have four hours detention,” he said and left.

I had never had detention before in my life. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. And, with only about a week or two until graduation, I thought I’d better get it over with as soon as possible. So I showed up at the school the next day at 4 a.m., waited until the custodian opened the school, found out where the detention hall was, waited until they opened it, went in and sat there until 8 a.m., then excused myself and went to Mr. Fanning’s office.

“I served my detention,” I said.

He looked at me, incredulous. “How do I know that?” He asked.

“How do you know that I went to Cedar Point?” I asked.

He laughed and said my detention was served.

I tell that story about myself because it says something about who I am, or who I like to think I am. Now, if you asked Mr. Fanning to tell the same story, he may tell it differently. If you asked my classmates who went with me to Cedar Point, they may tell it differently still.

We hang on to these stories about ourselves to create a self-image, like photographs in a scrap book. They say: “This is who I was. This is part of who I am.”

But what happens when versions of these stories are in conflict with each other? What happens when people remember these stories differently? What happens when we are confronted with stories that seem to contradict the self-image we have so carefully constructed from the timbers of our memory? Does the whole structure collapse?

Part of why I’m a person of faith is that I recognize that my story, my personal narrative, is not the primary story. I need to situate my story in the arc of a much greater story being played out over eons, not just years, decades, or even centuries. My story fits inside the larger narrative of God’s saving acts and that means that my narrative self is not built simply out of my own stories, but out of age old stories that are tried and true.

Paul wrote: “There is not one righteous, not even one... All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:10, 23) If I had to construct a shelter to protect myself from the winds of doubt and the floods of angst from only my own stories, I’d be lost. Sure, there are a few good timbers, from the outside, but there is rot in them as well. Each tale of triumph has a shadow side.

That story about Cedar Point? It also shows my arrogance and my sense of entitlement and how I have issues with authority figures. It shows how I expect the system to bend to my will, instead of the other way around. I’m no hero in that story. I’m kind of a punk.

But, guess what? The Bible tells me that I’m in good company. There’s Jacob, the trickster, and Moses, full of self-doubt, and David, lustful and arrogant, and on and on. These “saints” aren’t in the Bible because they were so good, but because they were called. And if God can use them, in all their imperfections, God can use me too.

And that’s good news.

Rev. Lawrence Lee has been the pastor of the United Church of Two Harbors since August, 2003 and can be found on Facebook at revlawrencelee.